Making Life Easier with Google Tag Manager

Senior Digital Analyst
Published 7/1/14
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As the Senior Digital Analyst here at Miles, I get to do a lot of fun things: researching user behavior on sites, finding areas of opportunity to make sites easier for users to navigate, even digging through user agents to build filters to stop bot traffic.

One of the recent fun things I've gotten to work on is migrating a client site from a custom Adobe Analytics implementation to Google's Universal Analytics using Tag Manager. We've written about Universal Analytics in the past, Google's newest analytics iteration, and how it means changing code on your site to use a new javascript library. We haven't talked much about Google Tag Manager. Google rolled out Tag Manager in late 2012 and made — and continues to make — fascinating updates to it.

What is Google Tag Manager? It's a manager for the tags on your website, silly! Well, that’s putting it incredibly simply. Tag manager platforms have been around for a few years now, and provided by several companies, including Adobe, Ensighten, Google and more. Google's, like its analytics platform, is free.

Tag managers solve a very common problem: The more you want to track on your website — conversions, visitor behavior and more — the more snippets of code you need to add to your website pages. These tags can be analytics ID tags, analytics event tracking tags, AdWords tags and several other third-party tags.

Tag managers take some of the busy work off the developers and puts it in the hands of analytics folks, account teams, even client teams.

Because these tags are small pieces of code, a developer needs to add them to your site, or specific pages of your site. The more tags you need to add, the more times you're bothering your developers to stop what they're doing and add them. Developers are busy building and maintaining awesome websites; they don't want to have to stop every other day or week to add another tag to track a conversion or clicks on a new button. You also don't want to interrupt them from developing and maintaining awesome websites because that slows the production process.

So Tag Managers take some of the busywork off of the developers and puts it in the hands of analytics folks, account teams, even client teams. We'll use Google Tag Manager as our example of how tag managers work, because we use Google Tag Manager (or GTM) at Miles.

In Google Analytics, you have a UA tracking code unique to your site. It goes on every page you want to track in analytics. In Google Tag Manager, you have a container code that works the same way as the UA tracking code. It goes on every page on the site you want to track. So, yes, you'll have to bug your developer to put the container code on your site — and remove all other tags from the site so you don't have double tracking.

Then that's when the magic of tag management happens. Within the Google Tag Manager admin for your site, you can build your own tags by using predefined tags such as Google Analytics Tracking, DoubleClick Floodlight Tags or Display Ad Tracking, or by using custom HTML or image tags. Each tag type is further defined through rules and macros to make it as specific and as custom as you need. For example, do you want to track the Book Now button on your Accommodations page? You can do that with a tag with specific rules and macros. In the past, you went to your developer and asked them to "set that up."

We could delve into the many, many types of tags, rules and macros within Google Tag Manager and what they can track, but that's another blog post or 10. There are several resources for learning more about how these work. The important thing to keep in mind is that Google Tag Manager makes managing the tags on your site easier, but it isn't easy.

When using Google Tag Manager, it helps to know your site very well and be very familiar with how it works. For anything beyond basic tags that need to fire on a page or set of pages, such as conversion pixels, the tag-building process can get complex and require a basic understanding of javascript and using debuggers. Google Tag Manager won't replace your valuable and beloved developers — nothing replaces a talented developer! — but it will cut down on the time spent pestering your developer to put a zillion tags on your site.